Newport withholds community center funding

Posted March 17, 2010, at 11 p.m.

NEWPORT, Maine — Selectmen said Wednesday night they are withholding $100,000 in funding from Sebasticook Valley Community Center because of a criminal investigation into the center’s finances.

Selectmen and Town Manager James Ricker declined to answer questions about the investigation, referring instead to a three-sentence statement drafted with the town attorney:

“The Board of Selectmen are aware of a current police investigation involving the Sebasticook Valley Community Center. At such time that the community center provides to the Board of Selectmen steps to insure fiscal responsibility it would be irresponsible of us to authorize the release of further funding. This is an ongoing investigation and the board will issue no further comments on the advice of their attorney.”

Ricker declined to answer several questions, except to say that the investigation is being handled by the Newport Police Department.

At a meeting earlier this month, selectmen asked representatives from the community center to provide detailed information about how funding is accounted for and spent. Pam Newcomb, chairwoman of the community center’s board of directors, met with selectmen Wednesday, but was unable to satisfy them in a way that would allow the flow of money from the town to the community center to resume.

Newcomb said that if some of the funding did not arrive by early April, the center’s ability to operate might be compromised.

“I don’t have a warm feeling that this thing will be resolved by the beginning of next month,” said Selectman Roger Carr to Newcomb. “It’s about the issue that we’re not going to discuss … about funds being potentially mishandled.”

Newcomb responded by saying, “I don’t think that’s an accurate statement. What you’re saying is that we should close the center.”

In her comments during Wednesday night’s meeting, Newcomb neither confirmed nor denied that an investigation was under way. She said if an investigation were under way she wouldn’t be able to comment.

Newcomb provided the selectmen with a pamphlet of financial information about the center.

Selectmen wanted more time to digest that information and scheduled a workshop on the issue for 3 p.m. Tuesday at the town office. The next regularly scheduled board meeting is April 7.

The Sebasticook Valley Community Center, based at the former armory building at 81 North St. in Newport, runs a variety of recreation and civic programs ranging from bingo to youth sports programs. About 90 percent of program participants are from Newport, according to Newcomb, although there is some participation from surrounding towns.

At Newport’s town meeting on March 13, voters appropriated $100,000 for the center — $30,000 more than selectmen had recommended. Ricker said $30,000 was added to the town’s appropriation after a motion from the floor. The community center’s total budget is in the neighborhood of $240,000.

In other business Wednesday, the board elected Thomas Breitweg and Doug Franklin as chairman and vice chairman, respectively. Both votes were unanimous. The board also approved a $5,616 contract with C.A. Newcomb & Sons of Carmel for the replacement of guardrails near a stream on Durham Bridge Road.

After a brief executive session, the board unanimously approved hiring an engineer for “land development,” but they declined to provide any details about the vote except that the engineering would cost the town less than $1,500.

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